On this MLK Day, it seemed as the home team was more sure of their dream of winning than the visitors. All year long, Mike Brey talked about how young his team was but on Monday night youth could no longer serve as an excuse as Notre Dame lost to an even younger Rutgers squad in the RAC in Piscataway, NJ. Scarlet Knights head coach Mike Rice had his players ready and a team that had struggled with turnovers and consistent shooting nearly the whole season got everything to click in the Big East nightcap. The home team took the game 65-58
More on the Fighting Irish's third conference loss of the season after the jump
With sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich struggling on offense, Mike Brey changed up his starting to line up and inserted the more athletic Joey Brooks alongside Jack Cooley, Scott Martin, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. The change did not last long. Though Brooks hit a corner 3 early in the game, one defensive lapse and turnover cost him to move behind freshman Pat Connaughton. Brey usually has a short leash with players that aren't as skilled on offense and Brooks has been the victim - at time unfairly - all season long.*
*Insert Brian Kelly-Dayne Crist joke here (I'll recommend the best comment, I promise)
The Irish played methodically on offense all night, mostly getting shots that they wanted later in the shot clock. Considering the lack of a true go-to scorer (sadly, Grant has not emerged as that yet), this has been Brey's offensive game plan all season. Against a young Rutgers squad that has relied mostly on their freshmen - Eli Carter, Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears - it seemed like the right path to take. But Rice's squad was equally patient, and Carter led a balanced Rutgers attack that resembled that of a more mature team.
Notre Dame's downfall was ultimately unforced turnovers (Cooley had two poor passes that both led to backcourt violations in the first half that led to Rutgers baskets) and not converting free throws. When you lose by 7 and miss 8 free throws (ND was 5 for 13 on the night) you have no one to blame but yourself.
Atkins led all scorers (14 points) for the second straight game, and Martin (11 points) looked more comfortable on offense than he has at any point this season, but the Irish did not utilize Cooley enough (9 points on just 5 shots) against a smaller Rutgers frontcourt and Grant again struggled to get good shots.
With the offense struggling the Irish will once again look to improve their defense whose 2-3 zone- which had hitherto been effective - was exposed Monday night through hot shooting from each corner by the home team.
With the loss the Irish drop to 3-3 in conference play and will host #1 Syracuse (20-0, 7-0) Saturday evening (Jan 21st) at 6pm. TV coverage will be on ESPN.